By Steve Klein
As Tidbits' biggest hockey fan (go Red Wings!) I devote a good deal of time and derive much pleasure watching hockey on television while following the game statistically on my computer at the same time. So, until these media fully converge, my big flat-screen television remains the best place to watch -- and my computer the best place to enhance the experience.
Therefore, it was with great interest that I read Stephanie Kang's story in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal about the National Hockey League's efforts to merge TV and online coverage by turning a disadvantage (a smaller television package and revenues in the U.S.) into an advantage by experimenting with deeper, richer online content.
Currently, I pay $169 for NHL Center Ice (the Cox Cable package), which delivers about three dozen out-of-market games to me weekly throughout the 82-game NHL season and the Stanley Cup playoffs (October into June). As a result, I don't miss many Detroit Red Wing games, which makes me very happy.
But according to Kang, NHL is about to launch a sophisticated package of streaming content called GameCenter Live. This might tempt me more if it didn't cost the same ($169) to watch the games on my 23-inch Sony WEGA monitor as it costs to watch the games on my 40-inch Sony Bravia 1080i flat screen.
NHL's streaming package can do some things that my television package can't, like show four games at once (again, on my 23-inch screen) or show a single game from a number of angles. And, from a photo that runs with the article, the game presentation online is surrounded by a seemingly complete statistical and live-action tracking package. Of course, that makes the video even smaller -- something of a major tradeoff to my big-screen eye.
You've got to hand it to the NHL's bad-thing-is-a-good-thing approach. "We're not encumbered by big national rights," John Collins, the league's chief marketing officer, told Kang for her story. Not that the NHL wouldn't mind being "encumbered" with more national television revenue -- but as Kang explains, the league "has the freedom to experiment with online video without the risk of angering its television partners." A similar lack of freedom has probably somewhat stunted the growth of other sports' online development.
I like what the NHL is doing -- but at the same price ($169) as my big-screen television package, I'm still going to watch the games on TV with my laptop on my lap. But I look forward to the day when my cat, not my laptop, warms that spot during Red Wings games.